Sept. 22 (UPI) -- After decades of negotiations, China and the Vatican reached an agreement Saturday on the selection of Catholic bishops in the Asian nation.
Seven bishops appointed by China were recognized by Pope Francis during the historic accord, the BBC reported, settling a decades-long conflict over who can officially appoint a bishop -- Beijing or the Pope. The dispute has lingered since 1951 after China broke diplomatic ties with the Holy See.
The Vatican recognized another bishop, but he died last year.
China has about 10 million Catholics. Mass is held in state-sanctioned churches approved by Beijing or in underground congregations that have sworn loyalty to the Vatican.
The Vatican press office said Pope Francis said he hopes the agreement will bring about full Catholic unity in China.
The two nations hope to continue diplomatic efforts, China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement cited by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"It is a truly important step in the history of Christianity in China, where the first traces of the Gospel are truly ancient," Giovanni Maria Vian, director of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano wrote.